Ahhh, the sweet smell of success. The sound of potential clients coming into your business and real clients leaving.

How'd they find you?

Yellow pages? Facebook? Sign on the building? Referral?

Who cares! They found you and that's all that matters.

Nope! Nope! Nope!

The old saying that "sales cures all things" is great, but there is an implication in that phrase - that no matter what, there will always be enough sales coming into a company to make up for lackluster performance in other places. To an extent, that's true. If you look at some of the biggest names in any industry, they generate enough raw income to weather some bad publicity, a recession, or a product recall. Name the brand and you can find the challenge they may have had - Toyota, Walmart, Starbucks - sooner or later, they've had a challenge and the sheer size of their sales and marketing allowed them some breathing room to weather the storm.

Small business doesn't have that luxury. Every penny counts, no matter how many pennies there are each day. With that in mind, understanding where the money is coming from has to be a part of your ownership strategy.

Over the last few weeks, we've been discussing little - but critical - things that owners and entrepreneurs have to do in their role of running the company and, more importantly, finding the time to run it effectively. As "busy" as you claim to be, are you actually doing anything or just pushing paper?

Here's a hint - too many owners are staying busy looking busy and not spending time addressing the growth of their business.

So let's talk about where those sales are coming from, shall we?

If you don't know, you need to find out. How? Ask! Creating and using even the most basic one- or two-question survey for customers to fill out (or answer, if they are physically in your business) is the first way.

Online? Make that question part of the checkout process.

If they are signing a more detailed set of forms or a contract? You guessed it! Make it a part of the process.

...And then, don't neglect that information, quit being "busy", take that information, and put it to good use. After all, these aren't window-shoppers, these are paid-in-full customers.

I've long told the story of some of the metrics that we used at the Michael Thomas Corporation and one of the best was to measure what color suit created more business for salespeople (it was, by the way, blue). If you haven't created the time as an owner to understand why people are choosing your model over your competition, then you are only managing the business that comes in the door, not actively seeking it out.

You have to know where they came from to know how to reach others that are ready to do business with you.

Let's say, for example, that you have a retail business. If you have a team of in-house sales people, do you have a standard for them to use to approach customers?

"Can I help you?" is only going to get a polite "Just looking" but how about if you had your team ask them something they weren't expecting? "Is this your first time here?" and a built-in follow-up question from there.

If it is, then have the team tell the customer about a rewards program for returning clients and if they are "regulars" then have the team tell them about the special that they, as regular customers, qualify for.

Simple? Sure it is, but at the same time, it is engaging potential buyers and eliciting a response.

And it is measurable.

Quit being "busy" and start actively owning and operating your company and you'll be able to understand where the money is coming from and how to make more of it.

Published on: Aug 29, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.